The Whitehall Ledger - Serving Southern Jefferson County in the Great State of Montana

By Jack H. Smith
Whitehall Ledger 

COVID-19 leads to school closures, numerous local events postponed


March 18, 2020

There have been numerous closures and postponements of events related to COVID-19.

On Thursday of last week, Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency to exist within the state of Montana related to the communicable disease COVID-19 novel coronavirus. In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, later Bullock announced Sunday a two-week closure of public schools in the state from March 16 to March 27. The directives announced by Bullock also included limited visitation at nursing homes, and public guidance regarding social distancing.

Jefferson County Public Health Nurse Karen Wandel reported Tuesday there were nine COVID-19 cases reported in the state, none of which are in Jefferson County.

There have been numerous announcements regarding the postponement of upcoming events and closures of businesses and organizations.

The Whitehall Library announced Monday they would be closed through the two-week school closure and both the Whitehall High School Hall of Fame and Jefferson Valley Sportsmen Association have postponed their March 21 events. The Whitehall Chamber of Commerce said Monday they would be postponing their annual Easter Egg Hunt scheduled for Saturday, April 4. The Whitehall Star Theatre announced they will not be having a moving this weekend, and Liberty Place Inc. has closed their facilities to all visitors. The Whitehall Senior Center is also currently closed but is still doing Meals on Wheels delivery. The Whitehall Little Guys Wrestling Tournament that had been scheduled for March 14 was also canceled last Friday. A public presentation scheduled for March 19 in Boulder with speak Angela McLean has also been canceled, as well as a free spay and neuter clinic.

In a release, Bullock said as governor, it is my top priority to protect the health and safety of Montanans, particularly our most vulnerable, at a time when we face the potential for extraordinary health risks from coronavirus in our state.

"Social distancing is one of the most important primary protective measures to flatten the curve of this virus. I cannot underscore the seriousness of following these measures to help our neighbors, friends, and families...I recognize that our schools often serve as a lifeline for families and that this decision is going to have disruption on Montanans over the coming weeks. I'm committed to working with schools, communities and public health to minimize the impact. I encourage businesses to do everything they can to support families as well," he said.

According to Whitehall School officials, students will not have to make up the school days this summer to replace the two weeks they have been ordered to close, but they have been told to put plans in place to provide off-site instruction. Staff will be meeting in the next several days to develop and distribute off-site instructions plans including digital and print options. For more information, please visit

The school closure also includes the suspension of facility use by the community including the weight room.

The School Board will hold a meeting on March 18 at 6 p.m. to vote on a resolution granting the Superintendent the authority to take non-discretionary actions.

MHSA Commissioner Mark Beckman announced Monday that all spring activities will be suspended until further notice. The executive board will reevaluate the situation on April 13.

Bullock issued an executive order March 12 declaring a state of emergency to exist within the state of Montana related to the communicable disease COVID-19 novel coronavirus.

"Now is the time to plan, not to panic. Our state has been preparing for coronavirus to come to Montana and we will be prepared to respond all along the way," said Governor Bullock. "Just like we do when any challenging situation hits our communities, we stick together to make sure that we mitigate the impact, that we have an appropriate response, and that we slow the spread."

The emergency order allows the governor to direct a coordinated response to an outbreak of communicable disease. This includes mobilizing all available state resources, such as emergency funds or personnel from the National Guard. It also allows the governor to take additional steps as warranted.

U.S. Senator Steve Daines issued a statement after it was confirmed Montanans have tested positive for the coronavirus.

"Cindy and I are praying for those who are infected and for their families. We urge all Montanans to take the necessary preventative measures in anticipation of additional cases. I'll continue to be in close contact with state and local officials as we work together to combat this virus," Daines said.

On Tuesday morning, Daines unveiled three more major proposals that will help protect Montana's workers, families, first responders, healthcare professionals, and small businesses during the Coronavirus Outbreak. Daines' plan includes: a tax relief payment of 7.65% for workers and small businesses, $1,000 payment for all first responders and healthcare professionals and to suspend SBA loan payments for three months.

"We are in the midst of a massive public health and economic challenge because of the Coronavirus outbreak. Our economy, our small businesses and the livelihoods of thousands of Montanans are at stake," Daines said. "In addition to several priorities I'm working on to protect the health of Montanans, I'm fighting to help our working families, small businesses, first responders and healthcare providers during the Coronavirus outbreak."

The United States Cattlemen's Association (USCA) called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to take immediate steps to address the impact the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is having on the U.S. cattle market.

USCA President Dr. Brooke Miller, M.D. issued a statement Sunday.

"The actions that federal, state, and local government - along with private entities - are making to control the spread of the outbreak are the right decisions. We must continue to 'flatten the curve' to protect our loved ones at greater risk of contracting the virus.

"However, producers' bottom lines are suffering due to the effect the outbreak has had on the cattle and beef industries. We must act expeditiously to return normalcy to the cattle marketplace. Fortunately, the USDA Commodity Credit Corporation can provide the needed programs and funding to address these rare and tumultuous incidents.

Melissa Jenkins

A spectator takes in the State Basketball Tournament --- with precaution.

"We call on Secretary Sonny Perdue to work in an expedited manner to provide the needed programs and financial support. In addition, we ask for oversight of the cattle marketplace to prevent anti-competitive buying practices in the days and weeks ahead.

Ledger Publisher Jack Smith said the paper will continue to publish and be distributed until the option is not available due to a temporary closure of our printing facility or post office. If this were to happen, the website will be updated daily.

NorthWestern Energy voluntarily suspended service disconnections for non-payment, effective immediately, to help customers who may be financially impacted as the result of this outbreak. This suspension will apply primarily to residential customers and will remain in effect until further notice.


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